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“Some of these stories are closer to my own life than others are, but not one of them is as close as people seem to think.” Alice Murno, from the intro to Moons of Jupiter

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see." Arthur Schopenhauer

“Why does everything you know, and everything you’ve learned, confirm you in what you believed before? Whereas in my case, what I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, is chipped away a little and a little, a fragment then a piece and then a piece more. With every month that passes, the corners are knocked off the certainties of this world: and the next world too. Show me where it says, in the Bible, ‘Purgatory.’ Show me where it says ‘relics, monks, nuns.’ Show me where it says ‘Pope.’” –Thomas Cromwell imagines asking Thomas More—Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My favorite posts to get started: The Self-Righteousness Instinct, Sabbath Says, Encounters, Inc., and What Makes "Wolf Hall" so Great?.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Welcome to Reading Subtly

Reading Subtly is primarily for my fiction, but it will also feature general thoughts about books, movies, and magazine articles. I am science-minded, read several science books and mags (and blogs), but I'm not a practicing scientist. By science-minded, I mean that I am very much concerned with epistemology--the ways people come to know what they know--and I believe science is by far the most worthwhile path to knowledge. Many of my religious friends, however, complain that science isn't enough, suggesting that it's somehow incomplete. I agree. The human mind is desperate for meaning, and though science can provide some raw material which can ultimately be woven into richer narrative tapestries such an endeavor isn't strictly scientific.

Literature too is an epistemology. We understand best what we can imagine to be otherwise: the universe needn't have been riddled with black holes, the earth needn't have been drowned in water, humans needn't have evolved to walk on two legs. "Spin multiple hypotheses," Carl Sagan admonishes in Demon-Haunted World. Not only does each prospective solution hold the possibility of being closer to the truth, but each attempt primes the mind to abandon those farther away, and opens us to new discovery. Literature, the imagining of other lives and other consciousnesses, opens us to discover a more encompassing humanity. It is set diametrically against the believer vs infidel tribalism which is too often catalyzed by religions. And it is absolutely essential in this postmodern, dangerously overpopulated world.

Reading subtly is about slowing down. Too many of us go about desperately trying to find our next entertainment fix. We seek out gorgeous celebrities jumping out of screens to escape big explosions. And we fixate on narratives of tribal war and revenge. Is it any wonder that worldwide tribal wars and honor killings consume so many lives? What if instead of the elitism of wizards and vampires and super spies and super cops we learned to control our craving for entertainment? What if we could sit back and appreciate the nuances of thought of people who could exist or have existed in the same wizardless, vampireless, superheroless world we all inhabit? What if instead of mass cult followings for J.K. Rowling, there were followings, outside of the vitiating pseudo-theories of academia, for Proust, or Bellow, or Munro? Reading subtly is about getting practice getting to know others, real or fictional, so that we can better know ourselves and better know our world--the better to live in it.

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